Four years after the release of campus movie Queen, director Dijo Jose Antony is back with another film titled Jana Gana Mana. Unlike his first movie, Dijo’s second directorial is set on a wider canvas with established actors like Prithviraj, Suraj Venjaramoodu and Mamta Mohandas in the lead roles. In the trailer, Prithviraj asks a government official, “Here, they will ban note, and can even ban vote, nobody is there to ask.” As Prithviraj exits the official’s room, there’s an explosion in the office. The trailer has ignited discussions with many saying that the movie will be a strong political statement on the current political climate of the country. However, Dijo has refuted such claims and said that Jana Gana Mana is an out-and-out entertainer. In this interview with indianexpress.com, Dijo talks about his new movie Jana Gana Mana, the politics of the film and his future plans.
How did Jana Gana Mana happen?
After Queen, we had discussed many projects with various artists, but then Covid happened. That’s when Sharis Mohammed, one of the co-writers of Queen, approached me with the plot of this movie. After he explained the plot in five minutes, I got excited. Then we worked on it and made it a detailed story. After that we met the actors who we wanted to cast and Jana Gana Mana took off.
What can you tell us about Jana Gana Mana?
Jana Gana Mana is an out-and-out thriller that provides entertainment without wearing down the viewer at any point. The movie is set in Karnataka, with many characters talking in Tamil, and some characters talking in Hindi. Hence, Jana Gana Mana can’t be called a regional movie. We have planned the movie in two parts but we haven’t shot the second part yet. We just shot a few sequences of the second part because it was essential for the first part.
Your first movie was full of newcomers. Coming to the second movie, you have established actors and crew. What difference did you feel with the two projects?
Everyone says the second movie is more important than your first movie. For me, every movie is important. In my first movie, everyone was a newcomer, including me, cameraman, producer, and actors. We had different kinds of challenges then. Coming to Jana Gana Mana, we had experienced artists and the challenges were different too. Jana Gana Mana is a bigger movie in terms of budget, canvas and the way it’s narrated. The most difficult challenge was undoubtedly Covid. There were sequences with crowds involved and it was difficult to manage such situations under Covid restrictions. We first had a shoot for 12 days. After that many of us including Prithviraj got Covid and the shoot got delayed. Then we shot for 3 days and again there was a gap. We again shot for 28 days. In total, we shot for 80 days and in between there were gaps of 3 to 4 months. So the availability of the artists was a pain point. But we didn’t compromise on any aspect of the movie due to these gaps and delays. We released the teaser of the movie in 2021, expecting the movie to be released in the same year. But the project got delayed. We didn’t rush through the project to finish it on time. My motto is – if we are doing a movie, do it according to your satisfaction. There was pressure, of course, from the side of artists, producers, but I was sure about how my movie should be and I am confident that it panned out the way I imagined it.
Though Queen was a campus movie, the climax sequences posed some questions about gender equality. After watching the trailer of Jana Gana Mana, one would feel the movie is trying to make a political statement. Do you agree?
I won’t say that. We didn’t market Queen as a movie which talks about gender politics. We projected that movie as a campus movie. In the climax, in the courtroom scenes, an advocate, played by Salim Kumar, asks those questions about gender equality. We didn’t place it intentionally; it’s a character who asks those questions. Similarly in this movie also, there are many characters who have gone through many painful situations and those characters have their politics. I won’t make a movie to sell my political stand. Of course, I have my politics. However, my movies don’t present my political stand, but only aim to entertain viewers.
Going by the dialogue said by Prithviraj’s character in the trailer, it feels like a particular political party is being targeted. Also, we all know who banned the currency. Does Jana Gana Mana intend to make a political statement?
That’s a dialogue reflecting the times we live in. It’s not something that has not happened, right? We faced those situations ourselves. After watching the trailer, one of my friends said that he felt something similar while he was trying to get admission for his son in a school. They made him toil a lot for an admission, and in the end, my friend felt like bombing that school building. That was the emotion that he went through, and similarly Prithviraj’s character has gone through some painful emotions before saying that dialogue. If you as a viewer feel that dialogue is directed at anyone, there might be some truth to it. Other than that we don’t intend to target any particular political party or ideology.
Do you fear any controversy following the release of the movie?
There won’t be any controversy.
Your lead actor Prithviraj is the producer of the movie. He is also a director. Did he interfere in your work?
Prithviraj hasn’t interfered in anything, but he certainly gave valuable inputs. See, he is someone who has a very busy schedule. We are lucky to have him as an actor in this movie. He just comes, plays his part and leaves. He doesn’t have time to analyze every shot we take. But, while we narrated the story to him, he shared two observations. It was very valid points which we have included in the movie. He didn’t interfere with dialogues or anything. This is not an out and out Prithviraj movie as you would expect.
Prithviraj-Suraj Venjaramoodu combo worked well in Driving License. Did you cast them because of this combo’s earlier success?
No, we didn’t cast Prithviraj and Suraj Venjaramoodu because of that. You’ll know why we cast them after watching the movie. The character Suraj is doing in this movie won’t work if it’s played by some other actor. Same is the case with Prithviraj’s character. There’s a reason why I cast them for those particular roles and you’ll know once you watch the movie. In fact, chances are that there won’t be even a scene in which these actors are together.
As a director, how was it working with Prithviraj and Suraj Venjaramoodu?
Both have distinctive styles. Suraj Venjaramoodu will be with me throughout the shot. He will keep on asking how to do a particular scene. Even after a shot, he will be with me, often cracking jokes. I enjoy that aspect of Surajettan. Meanwhile, Prithviraj comes to the location, finishes his shot and goes back to his caravan. Both are willing to take multiple shots if I demand it. Both are brilliant professionals but their approach is different. That blast scene in the trailer was a single shot and we were all so excited that it happened so perfectly, but Prithvi is like “Everything went well, right? Can I go now?”
It’s your second movie with screenwriter Sharis Mohammed. How does your chemistry work?
Sharis Mohammed is someone who is special to me because he was the one I started my cinema journey with. After Queen, he scripted Adya Ratri and Elam Sheriyavum. Jana Gana Mana is his fourth movie. He knows me very well and knows what kind of story excites me.
Do you see cinema as a business or an art form?
I am still a starter. I still can’t imagine cinema in terms of business. But I am learning from people like Prithviraj who see cinema as a business. It’s only because of people like them that cinema gets mileage. This movie won’t be possible without Prithviraj or Listin Stephen. So I respect them and learn from them. Right now, cinema is still a dreamland for me. My movies are like a dream come true. When I watch my movie in the theater, I realise my dream has materialised.
If I think about the business aspect, I will try to compromise on many other aspects. There won’t be any difference between what I am doing and the production houses. I enjoy wearing the director’s hat where I can visualize things and demand what is needed for my movie.
Prithviraj has said Jana Gana Mana will have a second part. When can we expect the second part?
If Jana Gana Mana becomes a superhit on its release, sure there will be a second part. So the second part depends on the success of the first part. I have already announced a film with Tovino Thomas titled Pallichattambi. There’s a movie with Kunchacko Boban, and a project with Mammootty is in the discussion stage.